After working with special needs persons for 13 years, Ms Yap Chui Hoon is finally on the road to getting the social work degree she has been dreaming of for the past six years, and it came with an unexpected bonus. The 42-year-old says she only has to pay a fraction of the cost for the $33,000 course at SIM University (UniSim).

The cost was first slashed by nearly 85 per cent, when government subsidies for education and mid-career enhancement kicked in. Just as Ms Yap was ready to pay about $5,350 to study part-time for three years, she received a welcome surprise in the mail two months ago.

The advisory note from UniSim said that a $5,000 SkillsFuture Study Award (SFSA) she had applied for in October last year was approved.

The SkillsFuture Study Awards is one of the schemes rolled out under the national SkillsFuture movement. the movement is overseen by the SkillsFuture Council, which was formed in November 2014 and chaired by Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economics and Social Policies Tharman Shanmugaratnam.

The Council spearheads efforts to develop an integrated system of education, training and career progression, providing opportunities for Singaporeans to start developing their fullest potential at any point in their lives.

Applications opened for over 500 SFSAs, worth $5,000 each, in October last year after it was announced during the 2015 Budget statement in Parliament. The awards will be rolled out in phases for future economic growth sectors or areas of demand, and up to 2,000 awards will be available annually as they are progressively introduced for the different sectors.

It can be used over and above existing government subsidies to defray a student’s out-of-pocket expenses for their courses.

Chief executive of WDA Ng Cher Pong says: “The SkillsFuture Study Awards encourages early to mid-career Singaporeans to embrace lifelong learning and strive towards skills mastery. This initiative also helps employers to build a strong and highly skilled Singaporean core.

“We welcome both Singaporeans and their employers to tap on the SkillsFuture Study Awards to be future-ready and develop skills mastery, amid the fast-changing labour market and volatile economy.”

As of today, the awards have been launched for 16 sectors. The awards in the following areas of specialisation are currently open for applications: accountancy, built environment, design, infocomm technology, air transport, internationalisation, land transport, maritime, media, precision engineering and social service.

In a tight labour market, the WDA says the SkillsFuture Study Awards will help employers upgrade the skills of their Singaporean employees to strengthen their talent pool. It will also help to enhance their business performance and retain staff.

For Ms Yap, the study award she received was a timely vindication of her search for a fulfilling career after she graduated with a certificate in business studies (accounting) from ITE in 1996.

She was then employed as an accounts executive with an IT company for seven years before she decided to switch careers. As Ms Yap had been volunteering at the Association of Persons with Special Needs (APSN), she immediately found part-time work there as a training instructor.

Helping people with mild intellectual disabilities convinced her that she had found her calling and she signed on full time with APSN. She rose through the ranks and was made social work associate, but without a degree her abilities were limited. By 2010, she had reached a plateau and needed to find a way up.

“I wanted to do more but as I was not a registered social worker, there was only so much I was allowed to do,” says Ms Yap. “I confided in my pastor at the church I attend, and then decided to take up courses at the Social Science Institute.”

To qualify for admission into UniSim’s social work degree programme, she studied for a diploma in disability studies in 2010, and two years ago, graduated with a higher diploma in social service.

Turning 40 opened the doors to more government study grants and APSN offered to pay for the balance of 15 per cent that was not subsidised.

Says Ms Yap: “I decided to pay my way because I wanted full control of my future after getting the degree. So, the SkillsFuture Study Awards came at an ideal time as it coincided with my decision to pursue a degree course at UniSim. I wasn’t sure if I would get the award, so it came as a bonus when UniSim said I did.”

The SkillsFuture programmes have created a surge in interest in what educational institutions are offering, according to Mr Aloysius Michael, deputy chief executive of At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy.

The company offers diploma programmes in culinary, pastry, bakery, and food and beverage, and at a road show in February at Raffles Place, he says over 150 people signed up for their courses.

“They were people who were interested in pursuing their passions more avidly because the platforms are now available for them, and of course funding like the SkillsFuture Study Awards help,” adds Mr Michael.

“Our classes are now full till the end of the year and our applicants are from other vocations like teachers and accountants. A lot of them said they intend to be entrepreneurs and set up their own businesses.”

Kaplan Higher Education Institute has also seen a spike in the take-up rate for two of its programmes.

It offers diplomas ranging from finance and mass communications to law and nursing, but only its courses on logistics and supply chain management (LSCM), and sales and retail management (SRM) qualify for the SFSA.

Says Kaplan president Leon Choong: “We saw a marked increase of close to 30 per cent for our diploma in LSCM year-on-year whereas the one for SRM has seen no significant change as yet. But overall, we expect approximately a 25 per cent increase in terms of enrolment as compared to the same time last year.”

Unlike At-Sunrice, most of Kaplan’s students — working adults in the 20s and 30s — are not looking for a career switch. Mr Choong says they are looking for career advancements within the industries they are currently working in.

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Article by Ian De Cotta
Source: The Straits Times© Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction.